The UK’s coronavirus death toll passed 50,000 and the country was warned to be braced for “many job losses” as the human and economic cost of the outbreak became clearer.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted he was “very proud” of the Government’s record despite the grim milestone on Covid-related deaths and his admission that large-scale redundancies were “inevitable”.
He said the Government would take an “interventionist” approach to support the economy as it emerges from the lockdown.
At the daily Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson acknowledged the scale of the challenge he faces.
“I am afraid tragically there will be many, many job losses. That is just inevitable,” he said.
Large sectors of the economy are being kept on life support by taxpayer funding, with businesses borrowing more than £30 billion from three Government-backed coronavirus loan schemes and 8.7 million jobs furloughed.
Mr Johnson vowed: “We will be just as interventionist in the next phase, investing in the UK economy, investing in infrastructure, taking our country forward so that we bounce back as sharply and decisively as we can.”
Former chancellors Lord Darling and George Osborne told MPs that the country could face 1980s levels of unemployment as a result of the pandemic.
Mr Johnson’s appearance at the daily press briefing came after a fractious Prime Minister’s Questions session where he was accused of presiding over a Government that had lost the “trust and confidence” of the British people.
He clashed with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer about his approach to easing the lockdown and reopening England’s schools.
The Prime Minister defended NHS England’s test and trace system – one of the key measures introduced to help the return to something approaching normality – but promised to increase the speed with which people get the results of coronavirus tests.
The Prime Minister defended his handling of the crisis, telling MPs: “I take full responsibility for everything this Government has been doing in tackling coronavirus and I’m very proud of our record.”
Sir Keir said there had been a “loss of trust” in Mr Johnson’s administration and claimed the Prime Minister had refused an offer to work together on building a consensus on the reopening of England’s schools.
The Prime Minister said Sir Keir had not offered “any dissent” during a private phone call about the Government’s approach and questioned the purpose of his “endless attacks” on the official response to the crisis.
In response to claims that the test and trace system was weeks away from being fully operational, Mr Johnson said it was working – but stopped short of giving figures to back up his claim.
He said “thousands” of contacts of people who had tested positive for coronavirus had been traced.
In response to pressure from former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, Mr Johnson set a target of test results being turned around in 24 hours by the end of the month, apart from postal ones and a small number of other exceptions.
The speed of getting results is critical to the operation of the test and trace system, which relies on identifying people who have been in contact with a positive case and getting them to self-isolate.
Baroness Dido Harding, who is heading up the NHS Test and Trace programme, told MPs not enough people were coming forward to book a test.
England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said the programme was “in the early stages of its development”.
In other developments:
– Home Secretary Priti Patel confirmed plans for people arriving in the UK from overseas to undergo a 14-day quarantine period from Monday.
– All schools in Wales will reopen on June 29.
– Research indicated a rare syndrome in children linked to Covid-19 affects youngsters with African heritage more than those who are white.
– Prof Whitty indicated the two-metre social distancing rule would have to remain in place for the duration of the epidemic in a blow to businesses and Tory MPs pressing for it to be eased.
– Prof Whitty said it was the “unanimous view” of the UK’s four chief medical officers that the coronavirus alert level should remain at four.
The death toll passed 50,000 according to analysis of official figures by the PA news agency.
The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said there could be 8,000 new cases of coronavirus a day in the UK and there was “relatively little room for manoeuvre” in easing the lockdown.
While the latest figures showed more than 1,800 a day had tested positive, data from the Office for National Statistics suggested the true figure was significantly higher.
At the same time he said the R – the rate of transmission – was still close to 1 which meant the numbers were not coming down quickly.
“We have relatively large numbers still not coming down fast. That gives relatively little room for manoeuvre. We have to tread very cautiously,” he said.
He said the number of deaths was also coming down “but it is not coming down as fast as we would like”.